Overdoing Graduation Requirements

November 14, 1991

Maryland's proposed new graduation requirements are too much of a good thing.

Recent hearings drew 143 speakers and 693 written comments, an extraordinary outpouring. The most comment was on a mandate that students complete 75 hours of community service. Officials are worried about costs and headaches in administering the program. We stand by our support of the service requirement. Experience has shown that with creativity, this program can cost little yet yield substantial benefits.

The problem we see in the new requirements is that the regulations specify too many courses. The math requirement would rise from three full-year courses to four and would prescribe courses in "algebraic concepts" and "geometric concepts." The social studies requirement would also jump from three courses to four, and specify one year each of U.S. history, world history and government and half-year courses in geography and economics.

It is risky to water down algebra and geometry courses, as schools make them easier so all students can take them. Well-trained math teachers are already in short supply.

Another concern: students would have little chance to select electives. Algebra and geometry, history and government, geography and economics are all worthy subjects. So are sociology and psychology, art and music, anthropology and health, physics and environmental science.

High school students don't need a board in Baltimore telling them to take four math courses and two in science if they'd find it more useful to take three in math and three in science -- or three in math, two in science and one in drama.

There are ways to increase the rigor of high school programs without over-prescribing courses. Better for students to demonstrate an understanding of government on a test than to demonstrate they have spent 50 minutes a day for two semesters sitting in a government class.

And there are ways to give students electives, too. The school systems that have six-period days in high school -- Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Howard and Queen Anne's counties -- should, as soon as their budgets permit, join the rest of the state in offering seven-period days, with students taking 28 high school courses instead of 24. Also, credit should be given for advanced courses taken in middle school.

Standards are good. But there are ways to raise them without further constricting curricula.

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